Private prison company clarifies denial; says has no role in unexpected delays for parole

(WSMV file)

CoreCivic, a private prison operator, this week further challenged the claims by some inmates that their unexpected delays of parole are resulting in more money for the company.

Inmates came to the News 4 I-Team with cases of having no explanation given for sudden delays for parole, to having their release dates pushed back in order to take classes that weren’t available at their prisons.

In a new statement to the News 4 I-Team, the company blasted the inmates’ claims.

“Any assertion that CoreCivic is responsible for or influences parole decisions is false and ignores the policies and procedures of the Tennessee Board of Parole,”. the new statement reads.

The inmates’ claims follow a scathing audit in November that named CoreCivic.

The News 4 I-Team reported in December that Curtis Martin, an inmate convicted of charges including burglary and a probation violation at the South Central Correctional Facility, said he’d taken several steps to be granted parole, including letters from guards recommending his release to secure a job on the outside.

In June 2015, he was granted parole with a release date of March 1, 2016.

Then, just before his release, he was told his parole had been rescinded, with no explanation given.

“They gave me an out date of March the 1st ... and two days before I go ... they've taken on a rescission hearing and tell me it’s confidential, that they do not have to tell me why they took it,” Martin said.

The I-Team obtained a recording and official transcript of his rescission hearing, in which a parole officer said he could not go into further details about the reasons why he felt Martin should be denied.

“I'm really not able to go into a lot of detail but the reason this rescission hearing was scheduled was due to some confidential info or new information that has been submitted,” the officer said in the transcript.

Martin then sued the parole board, demanding to know why his parole was rescinded.

On Nov. 3, 2017, a judge ruled that the reasons for his denial would remain under seal while the court was reviewing it.

The state of Tennessee allows for the information about why an inmate was denied parole to be kept secret.

"By Tennessee law, all information that is sent in by opposition to parole hearings is confidential,” said Melissa McDonald, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Board of Parole.

Randy James, an inmate also at South Central on marijuana charges, had a hearing last summer in which he was granted parole.

But James said a few weeks later and after a full review, there was an added requirement that he would need to attend a class for drug offenders.

To his surprise, that class wouldn’t be available at the prison for several weeks, which meant he would have to sit in his cell and wait.

Another inmate, James Bartlett, provided the I-Team study materials and notebooks from one of the “pro social” classes for inmates.

While Bartlett filled out the materials, they show no grades, marks or signatures from anyone running the program.

“It extended my stay. I wasn’t doing nothing. I was sitting in my pod,” Bartlett said.

And when inmates, who are in a private prison run by the company Core Civic, have their parole denied, it means the state has to pay $60 a day to the company.

“I think we are being held to make money for Core,” Martin said.

Before the airing of our original story, we requested for several days that CoreCivic grant us an interview to discuss the inmates’ claims, but that request was denied.

While we reported in our first story that CoreCivic denied all the inmates claims and included their full statement with our original story, http://www.wsmv.com/story/37120503/inmates-claim-their-parole-delays-mean-higher-costs-for-taxpayers, this week, the company’s attorney then sent another email.

“In fact, CoreCivic has no role in or influence upon the decision-making process for parole. All parole decisions are made by the Tennessee Board of Parole, and no one from our company is permitted to attend parole hearings,” he wrote. “The fundamental premise of this story is false, and doesn’t reflect the daily efforts of CoreCivic’s nearly 13,000 professionals, including teachers, principals, chaplains and counselors, who view the successful reentry of the inmates in our care as their work’s purpose.”

Lawmakers tell the I-Team they too are hearing complaints about the delay in classes offered.

“There's a waiting list for the classes. That was confirmed to me, I spoke to the masonry instructor, there's a year-long wait to get into his class,” said Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville.

“If it's true that people are being kept longer than they should that's a problem on numerous fronts,” said Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville. “One: we’re actually punishing someone more than the court and jury system decided they should be punished and were violating their rights. Second, we’re wasting state money, we're sending state money to pay for housing and caring for an inmate who no longer should be in custody and that's a gigantic problem.”

This month, Martin had another parole hearing.

He appealed the decision to pull his parole and asked to know who had spoken out against him.

The hearing officer ultimately ruled to deny his parole.

Here is the entire new statement sent to the News 4 I-Team by CoreCivic:Any assertion that CoreCivic is responsible for or influences parole decisions is false and ignores the policies and procedures of the Tennessee Board of Parole. CoreCivic is contractually and legally barred from determining a resident's parole or release date. For example, Trousdale County’s facility management contract reads, "All sentence computations, including calculation of Inmate release and parole dates, shall be done by the Department and copies furnished to Contractor and Inmates." Tennessee Code Annotated § 41-24-110 provides that "No contract for correctional services shall authorize, allow or imply a delegation of the authority or responsibility of the commissioner to a prison contractor for any of the following … Developing and implementing procedures for calculating inmate release and parole eligibility dates … "Allegations that suggest that CoreCivic plays any role in the determination of parole date or parole eligibility are inaccurate, run contrary to long established state laws and policies, and display a deep misunderstanding of how the criminal justice system works and our company’s role in it.

In fact, CoreCivic has no role in or influence upon the decision-making process for parole. All parole decisions are made by the Tennessee Board of Parole, and no one from our company is permitted to attend parole hearings. We strongly encourage you to reach out to the Tennessee Board of Parole to understand their process and the rationale for granting parole, particularly with regard to the individual cases you cite.

Both TDOC-managed and CoreCivic-managed facilities provide a number of pre-parole inmate programs that the Board of Parole may require an inmate to successfully complete before parole is granted. All of CoreCivic's facilities fully comply with TDOC contractual requirements pertaining to the pre-parole programs offered at each of our facilities and the number of seats available in each of those programs.

If a pre-parole program at a CoreCivic facility is full, the waiting list and priority of inmate assignments for that program are managed solely by TDOC. CoreCivic plays no role in the managing the waiting list or determining the order in which inmates are admitted into the program.

Finally, the placement of inmates at CoreCivic facilities, and their transfer into and out of CoreCivic facilities, are determined by TDOC.

The fundamental premise of this story is false, and doesn’t reflect the daily efforts of CoreCivic’s nearly 13,000 professionals, including teachers, principals, chaplains and counselors, who view the successful reentry of the inmates in our care as their work’s purpose.Copyright 2017-2018 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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